As a complement to C.G. Jung’s theory of the psychological functions (thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition), Wolff developed an innovative theory of the feminine psyche. One path to individuation is integrating all four structural forms or types.
Doing this work brings wholeness and a full life, and it provides some protection against the shadow possibilities of each archetype. This is equally true for women and men, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
More than a hundred years ago, Toni Wolff, former patient and close collaborator of C.G. Jung, came up with a model that describes the essence of woman according to four distinct structural forms or types :
- Mother (and spouse),
- Hetaira (companion, lover, wife, friend),
- Medial woman.
Her essay Structural forms of the feminine psyche was written with the express intention of helping “modern” women on their road to better “self-knowledge and self-realisation”.
She strongly encourages women to get to know their innermost priorities and to be aware that not every cultural period offers optimal possibilities for realisation of one’s true inner nature.
The personal and impersonal related forms
Wolff presents her types on two axes that cross each other (see image above).
The vertical axis has Mother at one end and Hetaira at the opposite end. These two types are said to be personally related. Their most important relationship is with other people : the Mother (and spouse) relates to her children (and husband), and the Hetaira relates to her partner, companion, husband, lover or friend.
The horizontal axis contains the Amazon and Medial woman at its opposite ends. These two types are impersonally related. Their most important relationship is not with people, but with the collective. The Amazon relates first and foremost to the objective cultural values of her time (the collective consciousness), whereas the Medial woman’s focus is primarily on any phenomena related to the collective unconscious.
Primary and adjacent forms
According to Wolff’s model, each woman identifies predominantly with one form, which represents her primary focus in life. This primary focus may or may not express itself in her outer life, which may depend more on her specific socio-economic circumstances.
Most women easily integrate a second form : one of the two adjacent forms, meaning on the axis other than the one that contains her dominant form. For example, if Mother is your primary type, it is natural to have access to your Amazon or Medial qualities.
The third form (the other adjacent form) takes more effort to be integrated, and Wolff says this is often achieved at a later stage of life.
Integrating one’s opposite form “is an approach to the Self”
It might take a lifetime, but when women can achieve the difficult task of integrating all four structural forms, this ultimately leads to psychological wholeness. “She will find her proper place in this modern world and will fulfil her cultural task.”
Both Wolff and Jung believed that a woman’s opposite or fourth form (Hetaira in our example) is largely out of reach of integration into our conscious personality and “can only be expressed on the symbolic level”.
But Marie-Louise von Franz did not agree. As most Jungians today, she believed that it is in fact essential to strive to integrate our opposite psychological orientation, or else we might end up “frustrated and half dead” (Toni Wolff & C.G. Jung – A collaboration, p. 112).
Wolff and Jung’s reservations about living one’s opposite structural form concretely (as opposed to symbolically) may have had more to do with the specific time they lived in and the personal choices they made regarding their life together (see future article).
Mother (and spouse)
“The mother finds her fulfilment in her relationship to that which needs protection, help and development by endeavouring to strengthen it …”
Women who identify mostly with this structural form often marry, have children, and focus all their energy on making a home in which the whole family thrives. Her focus is on her children’s education, paternal qualities of her husband our partner, having a well-organised family life, health, security, eating well, having a comfortable home, obtaining and maintaining a good social position by supporting her partner’s career, etc.
Alternatively, or simultaneously, she may choose a motherly profession or activity in which she helps, nurses, or teaches many people beside those in her immediate family. In this case the place of the home is taken by institutions or organisations of public utility, such as hospitals or schools for example.
The Mother’s shadow side
Each type also has a negative or shadow side.
“If the gradual integration of the next structural form does not take place, the original one will be exaggerated and turn negative.”
In the case of the Mother this exaggeration may represent itself as anxious and overprotective mothering long after the time that it is still needed, thereby effectively holding back the development of her charges.
She may lose herself so much in her mother role that she neglects the development of other aspects of her life. The danger is that the unconscious desires of her unlived life are projected onto her charges (often her children), who are then under pressure to live out their mother’s unconscious dreams instead of following their own.
Hetaira (lover, companion, wife, friend)
The Hetaira’s focus is foremost on the quality of her relational life with her lover, companion, husband, or friend.
On the way the hetaira type relates to men, Wolff writes the following :
“She will convey to him the sense of a personal value quite apart from collective values, for her own development demands of her to experience and realize an individual relationship in all its nuances and depths.”
The Hetaira is interested in encouraging the development of her partner’s inner life : his individual interests, inclinations, and his creative dreams. This is different from the Mother type, whose focus is on promoting and protecting her charge’s position in the outer world.
Although the Hetaira type is most often illustrated as the romantic and sexual companion of a man whose dreams she helps to achieve, this structural form can also express itself in a woman who promotes the inner life of her children, close friends or family members.
The Hetaira’s shadow side
If a Hetaira type favours inner life at the total expense of life and position in the material world, she might become a danger to her partner. He might be tempted by her to give up his profession or marriage to follow an elusive and badly thought out dream, which may subsequently cause his ruin.
Another negative aspect of the Hetaira
Contemporary feminist readers might cringe at the way Wolff expresses the following idea, as it reads dangerously close to the idea that the Hetaira only exists as an object that aids male psychological development :
“The function of the hetaira is to awaken the individual psychic life in the male and lead him through and beyond his male responsibilities towards the formation of a total personality.”
I believe this represents another shadow part of the Hetaira, which was probably unknown to Wolff at the time, as there is reason to believe that she herself fell into this very common trap that still challenges contemporary women all over the world.
Countless women have fallen in love and been so consumed by their relationship that they have completely lost themselves and sacrificed their own dreams to help realise those of their partner.
The ideal Hetaira relationship
In ideal circumstances the relationship is mutually beneficial and reciprocal. In this way the Hetaira forms with her partner a creative duo. They are able to follow their dreams together, often without being hindered too much by outwardly considerations of convention.
Wolff writes openly about the inherent need for sexual expression of the romantic bond between the Hetaira and her partner once that bond “has reached a certain depth and psychic consolidation”.
In Wolff’s time in Switzerland, a woman who chose to live her Hetaira nature to the fullest often remained unmarried and/or childless, and lived unconventionally. At present, at least in western societies, this is no longer necessary.
Most contemporary women speak very openly about their wish, as well as the challenges involved, to be a mother, as well as keeping the romantic and sexual connection with their husband or partner alive. We can infer that this includes the difficulty of maintaining the inner connection between their souls, which is so important for the Hetaira.
“Her interest is directed towards objective achievements which she wants to accomplish herself.”
In modern days we could call her a career woman, but her type might also express itself in the wife who “wears the pants at home and keeps their household and family under military discipline”.
Ideally, the Amazon balances her desire to contribute to the collective and cultural values of her time with any other responsibilities and interests she may have.
The Amazon’s shadow side
The shadow side of the Amazon is often illustrated in contemporary movies by the career woman (or man !) who is so consumed by her ambition that she neglects her personal relationships with her children, husband, family, and friends. She might even misuse human relationships for the sake of her career.
The Medial woman
“The medial woman is immersed in the psychic atmosphere of her environment and the spirit of her period, but above all in the collective (impersonal) unconscious.”
The Medial woman is highly intuitive and has a strong connection to the collective unconscious. Her qualities may find expression in the spheres of religion and spirituality, but also in the arts, medicine and healing, and in research and psychology.
The Medial woman’s shadow side
As with all four structural forms, and archetypes in general, the shadow side appears when one lives a life that is too one-sided : when one is possessed by one archetype, at the exclusion of the others.
When a Medial woman lacks ego strength, she might be overcome by the effects of the unconscious. She might lack the capacity to discriminate between what comes from within herself, and what comes from the collective unconscious.
Another problem might lie in finding the words to express the unconscious content she has access to. Therefore, she might be confusing, and her influence on others and herself can even become destructive.
A theory developed independently from C.G. Jung
Wolff presented her innovative model to the Psychology Club Zürich (for which she acted as president for 17 years) in 1934, and then again, in expanded form, at the C.G. Jung Institute Zurich in 1948.
Although many commentators have suggested that Wolff derived her theory from Jung’s anima-type and maternal-type in his 1925 seminar and 1927 essay, her biography (Toni Wolff & C.G. Jung – A collaboration, p. 94-95) and her own essay clearly demonstrate that this is not the case.
She developed her theory independently and most likely presented a first version of her model to the woman’s group she belonged to before the establishment of the Psychology Club in 1916. This group, of which Emma Jung was also a member, met regularly to present and discuss topics related to feminine psychology.
Four eternal women – Toni Wolff revisited
In the book Four eternal women, published in 2011, authors Mary Dian Molton and Lucy Anne Sikes provide lively and contrasting illustrations and amplifications of the qualities that Wolff identified for each of the types.
For each structural form they discuss positive as well as shadow characteristics, career possibilities, and the merits and challenges of their relationships with men, children and their environment. They also show the importance of integrating the adjacent and opposite forms.
Their interest in Wolff’s model began in 1997 with a decision to mount a film series for their local Jungian community illustrating the four structural forms. The film series has since expanded into numerous workshops and seminars.
The book Four eternal women originated from the use of the four types in their private practice and study groups. It is built around stories of fictitious women (from film, books, mythology) as well as real women (interviews and testimonials) from different periods of time, thereby illustrating the timelessness of Wolff original theory.
The intention of these authors is to help women look closely at their own lives : find out where they are Mother, Hetaira, Amazon, and Medial woman, and learn the lessons of the shadow tendencies of each type.
About men and women
In the first pages of her essay, Wolff makes a clear distinction between psychological functioning in men and women, which is to be expected considering that she lived in a time where there were much greater disparities in what was allowed, expected and deemed a normal or socially acceptable life choice for women and men.
About men she writes that :
“… his cultural achievements are determined by the spirit. Consequently his conscious attitude and his way of coping with reality are usually based upon the most differentiated function.”
Here Wolff refers to Jung’s theory of the psychological functions (thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition), to which she contributed extensively. Wolff’s biographer Nan Savage Healy suggests that it was probably Toni Wolff herself who wrote its famous definitions chapter, considered the core of the over 500-page book of Psychological Types, originally published in 1921 by C.G. Jung (see Toni Wolff & C.G. Jung – A collaboration, p. 180-183).
In contrast to men, Wolff writes about women :
“A woman, on the other hand, is by nature conditioned by the soul and she is more consistent in that her spirit and her sexuality are coloured by the psyche. Thus her consciousness is more comprehensive but less defined. The psychic form tends to manifest itself in such forms of life as may correspond to the female structural form and to the cultural period concerned.”
Wolff was ahead of her time in her thinking, and might even be considered feminist, in the sense that she played a role in helping women get equal opportunities and treatment. She did this by offering them two ways of being a woman that didn’t revolve around how they could serve others (mainly their children, husband, or lover).
The Amazon primarily serves her ambition by way of her contribution to society, and the Medial woman primarily serves her connection with the collective unconscious.
At the same time Wolff was very much a product of her time and environment. Women in Switzerland only obtained the right to vote in federal elections in 1971, after a failed referendum in 1959. It was well before, in 1934, that Wolff officially presented her structural forms of the feminine psyche.
As a contemporary reader it is painful to notice how much she writes about the influence of the Mother and Hetaira types on the men in their lives, especially the negative influence from the shadow side. Very little attention is given to what that might mean for their own life and fulfilment, and none at all to what women could mean to other women.
In this sense Wolff stands between two generations of women : one still very much enmeshed in a subservient role, very slowly starting to rebel, and the next generation (to which Marie-Louise von Franz belonged), not only freer in their choices, but most of all more confident in their dreams and wishes and their sense of entitlement to equality.
It is because of the hard work of these women that we are in a better situation today, and we must honour them by continuing the work, especially by transmitting new values to our children. We have come a long way, but there is still much to do.
Non-traditional gender roles and definitions
In contemporary times traditional gender roles and even gender definitions have been challenged and even overthrown, and I find it’s no longer helpful to make such a sharp distinction and such stereotypical interpretations based on a person’s sex.
What the LGBT community asks for, is to be seen and considered as a person, independent from their sex at birth or their sexual preferences or absence thereof. Nothing good ever came from putting people in boxes, that are often far too narrow, and then limiting their choices or rights based on what category they happen to have fallen into.
Given the breadth of the LGBT community it is clear that the large natural variation in human experience cannot be reduced to the sole categories of heterosexual male and heterosexual female.
Even traditionally minded men and women of our time would greatly benefit from being able to be just a person, regardless of gender.
For this reason, I posit that it is equally useful for men and women, whether traditional or non-traditional in their gender identity or sexual orientation, to apply Wolff’s model of the structural forms of the psyche to their own lives.
We can all think of career men (Amazon types), healers, artists, priests and depth psychologists (Medial men), family men, teachers, male caregivers (Mother types), and mentors, or men who find fulfilment in helping their partner or children achieve their innermost dreams (Hetaira types).
This broadening tendency also follows the extensive work that contemporary Jungians have done to expand Jung’s original stereotypical animus/anima theory to present-day men and women and non-traditional communities.
One path to individuation is integrating all four structural forms or types. Doing this work brings wholeness and a full life, and it provides some protection against the shadow possibilities of each archetype. This is equally true for traditional as well as non-traditional women and men.
Peggy Vermeesch, PhD
Dr Peggy Vermeesch is a Jungian-oriented therapist based in France, an English language teacher at the University of Western Brittany, and former researcher in geophysics at Imperial College London (UK) and the Universities of Texas (US) and Southampton (UK). She writes articles in French and English and acts as bilingual liaison between Jungian Psychology Space (JPS) and its Francophone mother site Espace Francophone Jungien (EFJ).
For more information, see her webpage.
- Erich Neumann’s New Ethic – Shadow and Evil in Star Trek :
- Narcissism in fairy tales such as Mary’s Child, Snow White and others :
- Toni Wolff’s structural forms of the feminine psyche
- The need to acknowledge the archetypal forces within